Sep 142021

Does radical right success lead to mainstream re-positioning?

Radical right parties have existed for decades now, but most of them are still seen as challengers, because they aim to disrupt the (liberal democratic) consensus in their respective societies. Existing parties can react by digging their heels in, or by accommodation. As I have argued elsewhere, their best bet might even be to ignore the challenge. But if they chose accommodation, it is by no means clear whether this position shift was caused by the emergence of a radical right party: mainstream parties could simply react to the perceived shift in the preferences of their electorate. They might even try to preempt the rise of the radical right.

One new and very cool paper that tries to shed some light on these questions of causality is Abou-Chadi & Krause (2020), which we read this summer.

Abou-Chadi, T., & Krause, W. (2020). The causal effect of radical right success on mainstream parties” policy positions: a regression discontinuity approach. British Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 829–847.

What we liked

My students had rarely seen difference-in-difference and discontinuity designs in the wild. They were hugely impressed by this elegant (and quite conservative) setup. Obviously, they thought this was interesting and politically relevant research. More generally, they liked the idea (new to many) of investigating inter-party strategic behaviour.

File:Matthias Laurenz Gräff, 'Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube. Sebastian Kurz, Der Große Diktator, Opportunist, Putschist'.jpg

“File:Matthias Laurenz Gräff, ‘Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube. Sebastian Kurz, Der Große Diktator, Opportunist, Putschist’.jpg” by Matthias Laurenz Gräff is licensed under CC by-sa-4.0 What we are reading: Causal Effects on Mainstream Parties' Positions 1 What we are reading: Causal Effects on Mainstream Parties' Positions 2 What we are reading: Causal Effects on Mainstream Parties' Positions 3

What we did not like so much

There was not much we did not like much. Students wondered whether the assumption of continuity around the threshold is defensible, and whether the various parties are comparable. More importantly, they suggested that in the real world, parties might chose mixed strategies (e.g. introduce tougher rules on immigration to drive down numbers whilst also trying to reduce the salience of immigration and going all-out liberal on other “cultural” issues). Finally, they would have liked the authors to talk even more about the political implications of their findings.

Sep 142021

Something good in everything?

Could radical right-wing populism be a (whispers) good thing? Of course it all depends on what we mean by “good”. Backlund and Jungar have a modest proposal: they suggest that radical right success could improve the representation of policy preferences in parliament. Using data from both expert and voter surveys in ten (West) European countries, they find that radical right parties occupy an almost unique position (both against immigration and against the European Union). They provide a good fit for their voters in this respect. On the other hand, most radical right parties are socially conservative (and more specifically homophobic), which many of their voters are not.

Backlund, A., & Jungar, A. (2019). Populist radical right party-voter policy representation in western europe. Representation, 55(4), 393–413.

What we liked

Students liked that Backlund und Jungar disaggregate “left” and “right” into policy positions. Most of them had also never seen work based on expert surveys (!) and were duly impressed. They found the derivation of the hypotheses convincing and praised the effective tables and graphs. Students also said that a lot of useful information was found in the appendix, then realised that this was a double-edged compliment.

demonstration, fridays for future, climate change

Photo by dmncwndrlch on Pixabay

What we did not like so much

Students were a bit disappointed that populism did not really feature while nativism was really prominent in the analysis. Given the Muddean concept of populism and the Chapel Hill-based measurement effort, this is hardly surprising, but they were still somewhat disappointed. They also said that they would have liked to see data for more countries as well as a clearer rationale for country selection, and harboured doubts about the validity/comparability of the gay rights-items in the EES/CHES. Finally (and this may well be a Mainz thing), they said that representation/representative and responsive(ness) were used more or less interchangeably by the authors. While I’m not sure whether this is really true, I’m happy to see that my students strife for conceptual clarity (at least as far as other people’s work is concerned). Having said that, we thought that this is a fresh, almost unique take.

Jun 242021

Something new about protest voting and the radical right?

The debate about the role of discontent/protest for the radical right vote is somewhat stale, to say the least. For literal decades, van der Brug/Fennema/Tillie (2000) and van der Brug/Fennema (2003) have been my go-to references.

Their story is roughly this: yes, radical right voters are dissatisfied, but their unhappiness is ideological. They crave even tougher immigration policies (and possibly a more generally illiberal setup of politics and society).

While Wouter and friends were writing about West European countries of the 1990s, their core findings have been confirmed time and again with newer data. End of story.

So I was quite intrigued when I saw this new paper:

Cohen, D. (2020). Between Strategy and Protest. How Policy Demand, Political Dissatisfaction and Strategic Incentives Matter for Far-Right Voting. Political Science Research and Methods, 8(4), 662–676.

Cohen’s argument is that both policy demands and discontent are relevant motives, whose relative importance depends on the circumstances, i.e. radical right representation in parliament and government participation. What’s also novel is that the students tasked with introducing the text got in touch with Cohen, who sent us a video showcasing the article’s highlights and some of his other research. That’s pandemic political science for you.

What we liked

We found the model/method slightly demanding, but quite elegant and intriguing. The main attraction is that the author tries to factor in the incentives and opportunities arising from the political context in which the radical right tries to mobilise their potential voters.

Picture of Marine Le Pen

Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick / Lille – Meeting de Marine Le Pen pour l’élection présidentielle, le 26 mars 2017 à Lille Grand Palais (069) / Wikimedia Commons

This is something which is often talked about but that is rarely implemented in practice. Perhaps the most obvious distinction is between situations where the radical right is in office/opposition (the latter still very much the rule).

What we did not like so much

Students were not sure whether the (changing) indicator for disaffection is really valid, and pointed out that one should distinguish between mere dissatisfaction and demands for a fundamentally different political system. They also argued that propensity to vote is a useful indicator in general, but that an argument about strategic considerations really should be tested based on (reported) electoral choices.

Our main criticism was that legislative strength is measured by seat share in the last national (first order) election, whereas the dependent variable is voting behaviour in European (second order) elections. This seems conceptually dubious and also transforms parties operating under non-proportional national electoral systems (think UKIP and Rassemblement National) into outliers.

But even so, we liked the focus on the political context and opposition/government party status.

Jun 012021

Why are women (mostly) immune to the radical right?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a good brain is rarely in want of a male-dominated, chauvinist, sexist radical right party. Or something along these lines. Austen aside, for most radical right parties in (Western) Europe, the male-to-female ratio in their respective electorates is roughly 2:1. As far as I know, this is more than any other party family has to offer. In this 2015 paper, the authors (none of them of the female persuasion) argue that there are two complementary mechanisms that could account for this finding:

  1. Mediation: men/women hold different attitudes (towards immigration/immigrants)
  2. Moderation: the importance of such attitudes varies by gender

Their main result is that both mechanisms seem to contribute in roughly equal parts to the observable gender differences in far right support.

Harteveld, E., Brug, W. V. D., Dahlberg, S., & Kokkonen, A. (2015). The gender gap in populist radical-right voting: examining the demand side in western and eastern europe. Patterns of Prejudice, 49(1-2), 103–134.

What we liked

Students really, really liked the topic of this paper. They were also intrigued that the authors name-checked the social construction of gender, but slightly disappointed that this had very little tangible consequences, as far as the analysis was concerned. Following our reading of Brils, Muis, and Gaidyte (2020), they also appreciated that the authors differentiate between the relatively well-known state of affairs in Western Europe and the potentially very different CEE world. They thought that the idea of moderation-by-gender (and more generally the idea of voter heterogeneity) was quite innovative and said that the authors’ interpretation of their tables was clear and easy to follow.

Picture of Marine Le Pen

Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick / Lille – Meeting de Marine Le Pen pour l’élection présidentielle, le 26 mars 2017 à Lille Grand Palais (069) / Wikimedia Commons

What we did not like so much

In some (rare) instances, the interpretations were less than lucid. More importantly, a lot of stuff is happening in this paper, which is perhaps too much and results in a somewhat complex structure (where did the perceived left-right distance come from, and what do these findings mean, exactly?). After I have supplied them with industrial quantities of the Brambor-et-al. Kool Aid, my students are also allergic to any statements about the significance or insignificance of terms in interactive models and demand margins plots, fast. And are these really enough countries for multi-level modelling, particularly after splitting the sample?

But by and large, we were quite happy. This is an important topic, and the paper provides bold answers to some of the big questions attached to it.

May 082021

Is anti-immigration sentiment behind the radical right vote in all of Europe?

It’s been a mere three decades since 1990, or as we old-timers are prone to say, a generation. But for some (cough) Europeanists, the CEE countries are still either terra incognita or just an extension of their western counterparts. While much of the best work on the Radical Right in Europe is comparative, this comparison is often confined to the same 12 or 15 countries that counted as European when the field emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.

In this part of the continent, the importance of nativism, and more specifically, anti-immigrant sentiment, for the Radical Right vote is well established. But how relevant are concerns over immigration in the east, where net immigration is a very recent phenomenon? That is the question that Brils, Muis, and Gaidytė are addressing in this recent contribution. Their analysis is based on ESS data from 16 European countries that were collected shortly before or during the so-called refugee crisis of 2015/16.

Brils, T., Muis, J., & Gaidytė, T. (2020). Dissecting Electoral Support for the Far Right: A Comparison Between Mature and Post-Communist European Democracies. Government and Opposition, online first.

What we liked

Students were happy that someone actually bothered to look how the immigration issue played out in different parts of Europe. They were also impressed that the authors grouped vote choices into four broad categories (far right, centre right, left, non-voters) instead of studying an alleged binary choice between the far right and everything else. Treating non-voters as a group in its own right was seen as an improvement over the analysis of a tripolar space. Using fairly recent data on an issue that is still highly salient was also seen as a plus by my students.

Victor Orban during the debate on the political situation in Hungary

“Victor Orban during the debate on the political situation in Hungary” by European Parliament is licensed under CC by-nc-nd-2.0 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 4 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 5 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 6 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 7

We also found the theoretical framework reasonably clear, appreciated the references to recent literature, found the hypotheses plausible and the definitions lucid. They were particularly happy with the tables that provided a bird’s-eye view of all the hypotheses and the related major findings.

What we did not like so much

As with Oesch and Rennwald, students argued that the there are important differences between new (green) and old (socialist, social-democratic, communist) left parties, particularly when it comes to immigration. Lumping these choices together could therefore blur the picture. As always, some parties are hard to classify. Conversely, “far right” is a very broad category that includes radicalised mainstream parties, the Radical Right and even openly extremist outfits.

Students pointed out that the Mediterranean countries where most of the refugees arrived (Greece, Italy, Malta) were not included in the sample. Spain and Portugal were also missing, although they were hit hard by the Euro crisis, too, and had also  had high levels of immigration in the past. Moreover, Greece, Spain, and Portugal only returned to democracy in the 1970s, i.e. less than two decades before the CEE countries. And finally, students said that the number of hypotheses was a bit excessive. There you go.

Apr 292021

What we are reading: Corruption performance voting

Do voters punish government parties for high levels of corruption?

Performance voting is a generalisation of economic voting: the idea that voters governments punish/reward for good/bad, well, performance. Low levels of systemic corruption are both an aspect and a precondition for a polity’s performance, so studying how voters’ perceptions of corruption affect their voting behaviour is kind of straightforward – only that few people have done it. This article uses data from round 2 of the CSES (2001-2006) to do just that.

One of the main findings (in my view) is that party ID moderates the effect of corruption perceptions. For non-partisans, perceptions of widespread corruption have a strong negative effect on the likelihood of a pro-government vote, as they should. However, government supporters will vote for the government, and supporters of opposition parties will not vote for the government, no matter what either group thinks about levels of corruption in their country. More technically speaking, partisanship emerges once more as one hell of a drug.

Ecker, A., Glinitzer, K., & Meyer, T. M. (2016). Corruption performance voting and the electoral context. European Political Science Review, 8(3), 333–354.

What we liked

Students liked the clarity of the theory section, the elegance of the economic/performance voting link, and the interaction plots. They also thought that the topic was super interesting.

What we did not like so much

Students may have been a bit grouchy, but they came up with a long list of potential improvements. Here are the most important points:

Students said that the definition of corruption given in the text was very broad, whereas the item in the survey was highly specific. Table 1 in the text has tiny entries (even given their youthful eyes) and did not show the random effects or the number of cases on the upper level.

Abundance achievement bank banknotes

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Contents-wise, students asked about the policy lessons that could be learned from this research (ouch!), demanded additional system-level variables including measures for freedom of the press and even suggested a longitudinal perspective.

After reading a couple of useful primers on multi-level modelling last week, students also noted the absence of an empty model as well as a far bigger problem: the number of contexts (national elections) is really low (about 20, simply because this CSES round covers a limited number of countries), whereas there are three macro level variables and two cross-level interactions. This is asking a lot of relatively few data points. Having realised this, the finally stopped banging on about more interesting system-level variables that could be included.

Apr 292021

The reading class exercise goes on. Inevitably, the class on the consequences of the Radical Right’s rise kicks off with some recent work on the underlying causes.

What is the link between social class and radical right voting in Western Europe?

The idea that the radical right forms a new party family, whose rise is the result of changes in the class structure of European societies has been around for a while. Kitschelt, Betz, and Kriesi were amongst the earliest proponents, and Kitschelt/Rehm (2014) develop some interesting ideas about the mechanisms behind these alignments. Oesch and Rennwald have been working in this field for a long time, too.

This article, which was published in EJPR three years ago, is almost an instant classic. Having said that, I have previously found the article a bit busy (by now, I’m conditioned to only digest bite-sized pieces that do one single thing in 6,000 words or less). And, my personal bug-bear, the text uses “poles” and “party families” as exchangeable, but on closer inspection, their poles encompass several party families.

  • Oesch, D., & Rennwald, L. (2018). Electoral competition in Europe’s new tripolar political space: class voting for the left, centre-right and radical right. European Journal of Political Research, 57(), 783–807.

What we liked

Students said that the statistical analyses were quite focused and presented in an accessible way, i.e. with tables and graphs that convey the meaning of what is being done. They pointed out that the paradox of service and production workers that vote against their own economic interests really comes to the fore in these analyses. So does the lack of left-wing authoritarian parties in most contemporary European societies. One student made the connection with the gender gap in radical right voting: if the distribution of jobs in European societies is heavily gendered (compare e.g. education and medicine/nursing on the one hand and production/construction on the other) and if the logic of workplace relations has an impact on one’s politics, it makes perfect sense that the radical right disproportionately attracts male voters.

factory, industry, abandoned

Photo by MichaelGaida on Pixabay

What we did not like so much

Students agreed that “poles” are not really party families. More specifically, they argued that one should differentiate between Old Left/New Left parties. Taking on board some ideas from my other MA course, they argued that contextual/institutional factors (e.g. type of welfare state) should be taken into account. They wondered about what goes into the “cultural” dimension of party competition (don’t we all) and were a bit baffled by some of the comparisons in the last part of the text, which read like comparisons over time but are actually comparisons between groups of countries.

Apr 272021

Working with repeated comparative survey data – almost a howto

There is now a bonanza of studies that rely on surveys which are replicated across countries and time, often with fairly short intervals, with the ESS arguably one of the most prominent examples (but also see the “barometer” studies in various regions). Multi-level analysis is now the weapon of choice to tackle these data, but the appropriate structure of such models is not immediately obvious: are we looking at waves nested in countries? Countries nested in waves? Or rather at surveys cross-classified by year and country? What’s the role of the small-n problem when we are talking about countries? And does the notion of sampling even make sense when we are talking about what is effectively the whole population of countries that could be studied?

  • Schmidt-Catran, A. W., & Fairbrother, M. (2016). The random effects in multilevel models: getting them wrong and getting them right. European Sociological Review, 32(1), 23–38.
  • Schmidt-Catran, A. W., Fairbrother, M., & Andreß, H. (2019). Multilevel models for the analysis of comparative survey data: common problems and some solutions. , 71(1), 99–128.

What we liked

It’s difficult to have a discussion about a text that provides a lot of factual information about methodological bits and bobs, especially when you have little prior knowledge. Having said that, students found both texts (which are related but complementary) remarkably accessible and helpful.

Schmidt-Catran, Fairbrother, Andreß 2019: 112

Sad but true: comparative analysis is hard, and multi-level models are no panacea. Nothing ever is. Bugger.

What we did not like so much

Nothing. Students liked these two. So did I. Period.

Apr 262021
Traditionally, Germany’s long, gloomy, depressing and generally horrible winter semester ends mid-February. It is followed by a break that slips past us in the blink of an eye and then a long, sweaty, generally drawn-out but gloriously sunny summer term that ends mid-July. And this is where we are now (the beginning, not the end).

For a couple of years I have been teaching mostly MA students. While I sometimes miss the fresh-faced innocence of first-year BAs who will happily ask for permission to write their first ever 12-page essay, to be finished next week or so, about “German’s political system” (all of it), this has many perks. One of them are reading courses: seminars in which we collectively tackle a number of short and usually fairly recent papers in one specific area of Political Science that I would like to read anyway.

glasses, reading glasses, spectacles

Photo by Free-Photos on Pixabay

This semester, I offer not one but two of these courses. This first is built around the idea that institutions and other (macro-)contextual factors shape political attitudes and political behaviour. The other course is (mostly) concerned with the political outcomes of radical right mobilisation – a topic that deserves more love, especially in comparison to all the attention given to the sources and preconditions of said mobilisation. Feel free to peruse the outlines/references as you see fit.

Once more, my personal aim is to blog every week about our reading progress. Let’s see how it goes.

Apr 212021

How important are local weather extremes for citizens’ attitudes towards climate change?

Humans are generally stupid and tend to ignore things that seem abstract and will happen in the future (even if the future is not very distant). There is a small-ish literature on how Americans’ climate opinion responds to more extreme/hotter weather. And then there is this new paper, which was written by a very, very good Masters student and looks at the correlation between climate opinion and the temperature in the week of the interview. When I planned the seminar, this was one of my favourites.

Damsbo-Svendsen, S. (2020). How Weather Experiences Strengthen Climate Opinions in Europe. West European Politics, (), .

What we liked

Students liked the idea of applying something from the US literature in a European context. Climate change is pretty high on their own agenda, but apart from that, they were (positively) surprised that social scientists can (and should) model the effects of real, physical variables on attitudes.

thermometer, summer, heiss

Photo by geralt on Pixabay

They also liked that the author was very much aware of the limits of his analysis, super transparent regarding his data and model, and provided a graph for one of the robustness checks.

What we did not like so much

Students were less impressed with the notion of “news exposure”. Going forward, they wanted to know which media reported on what kind of weather extremes, and who consumed which media content. I tend to disagree, because I think that the author provided a useful simplification and still found an effect, but there we are. Moreover, I suspect that the whole section on media exposure was grafted on the finish product at the behest of an evil reviewer.

A more serious problem is that for bigger countries, more fine-grained information on local weather should be analysed. But again, this simplification makes the whole thing more conservative, so I’m not worried. And finally, students wanted more theory. Kids these days …